Title: Sharing is Caring
Rating: T for a bit of violence
Disclaimer: I own nothing
Summary: Ever since Arthur knighted Gwaine, Merlin's been hanging around with the man constantly. Or, the one where Arthur is kind of bad at sharing. Especially when it's with Gwaine.. Post series 3.
AN: Part of my 300 Followers Fic Fest. For an anon on tumblr who wanted Merlin and Gwaine chillaxing and Arthur getting jealous. I was writing that but then slavers happened. Whoops. So it goes.
They had a system, and it was a system that Arthur had grown accustomed to and perhaps even come to enjoy.
After Merlin collected Arthur's dirty supper dishes and brought them to the kitchen, he would return to Arthur's chambers. He would stoke the fire while Arthur changed into his sleep clothes, and then turn down the bed linens. "Anything else, Arthur?" he would ask.
"That will be all, Merlin," Arthur would say. "Good night."
And Merlin would answer, "Good night," and disappear out the door.
But, tonight, as he was clearing up the dishes, Merlin said, "I won't be able to come back to tend the fire, but I can send someone else to do it, if you'd like."
Arthur frowned, leaning back in his chair. "Why can't you do it?"
"I'm meeting a friend at the tavern."
"Right," said Arthur. "Don't be ridiculous. You don't have friends."
"I do so," said Merlin. "There's Gwen and Lancelot."
"Gwen hates the tavern, we both know that," said Arthur. "And Lancelot's off patrolling the northern borders, so you have quite the long ride ahead of you. Cold, too, I imagine. And I didn't think there were many reputable taverns there."
"Gwaine and I are going, for your information."
"Gwaine?" Arthur asked. He rolled his eyes and scoffed. "Please, Merlin. Gwaine doesn't like to be tied down to anyone, even if only for an evening at the tavern. Especially not you."
Somehow, that offended Merlin. He went all stiff and his voice was a little prickly when he said, "I'm perfectly capable of being friends with Gwaine. And you can mind your own fire then, Sire, I shan't be sending anyone up to help you."
He stalked out of the room, leaving Arthur's dishes in a pile on the table. Arthur just shook his head, and waited for Merlin to come back. He waited, and waited, but there was no sign of him coming back from out in the hall.
Fine, Arthur thought, fine. If that's how Merlin wanted to play it, Arthur could go along with it. So he stripped off his royal shirt, and took off his royal belt and the royal pants, and got himself into the royal nightclothes. He crossed his arms and stared at the door, waiting. Still, no Merlin appeared. He huffed. It was getting cold, and the fire was burning down. He tapped his foot, and finally the cold got the better of him.
Arthur went to the fireplace and got the flames dancing high, and then resumed his stance, staring at the door. Merlin still wasn't back yet. Eventually, Arthur grew more tired than he was impatient, and turned down his own covers to get into the royal bed. He gave the door one last glance, huffed, and turned over to go to sleep.
The lengths Merlin would go to. Honestly.
Merlin was horribly late the next morning, and it took Arthur all of two minutes to realize that he was also horribly hung over. And if Arthur talked louder than normal and slammed his cup down a little harder than the usual, there was no one there to call him on it. Arthur made Merlin come down to the training fields, where the swords were clanging off of armor and shields.
Merlin looked completely miserable. Served him right for abandoning Arthur last night in such an appalling manner.
"Alright today, Merlin?" Gwaine said as he came to stand next to the servant, his voice loud and boisterous.
Merlin hissed and pressed a hand to his forehead. "I hate you," he muttered. Gwaine only laughed and clapped him on the back, which made Merlin wince even as he smiled a little.
"Aw, Merlin, I'm hurt," said Gwaine. "And here I thought that we were friends. You said so last night at the tavern, remember? Just before you tripped and went face first down that maid's dress."
"Oh, God, I thought I dreamed that," Merlin moaned. Gwaine laughed again.
It did little to make Arthur's mood any better.
Merlin had been out carousing in taverns instead of serving Arthur, as was his job. And with Gwaine, of all people. Arthur had thought Merlin to have more sense than that. Arthur dumped his sword down on top of his shield, and pretended not to hear the small, pained whimper that escaped from Merlin. Gwaine, meanwhile, just continued on laughing.
During training, Arthur may or may not have went at Gwaine a little harsher than usual. And throughout the day, he may or may not have given Merlin as many jobs in bright and fragrant places than he otherwise would have. It was better than the two irresponsible idiots deserved.
But when Arthur brought it up to Gwen, later, she gave him a long look and said, "If I didn't know better I'd say that you were jealous."
Arthur sputtered. "Of who? Merlin and Gwaine? You must be joking."
"Then why are you being so horrid to them?"
"I'm not being horrid," said Arthur. "I'm showing them the error of their ways."
"They're friends," said Gwen. "Merlin's allowed to have friends, you know. Friends that he sees during his free time."
If Merlin had free time, then Arthur was clearly doing something wrong. He didn't say as much to Gwen, though, as he strongly suspected she would disagree with his point of view. Instead, he said, "Gwaine is a bad influence on Merlin."
Gwen crossed her arms. "Arthur," she said.
"What?" said Arthur. "He brings him to the tavern so he's hung over in the mornings and perfectly miserable and useless. He gets Merlin into trouble. He's a roustabout and can't be trusted."
"Then why did you knight him?"
"Because he's handy in a fight and –"
"And Merlin likes him, just like with Lancelot," said Gwen. "And you trust them both because of Merlin's judgment. Besides, Merlin is friends with Lancelot as well, but that doesn't bother you."
"That's because Lancelot isn't a drunken roustabout," said Arthur.
"Arthur," said Gwen again, crossing her arms. "You're jealous. Admit it so we can move on."
Arthur let the subject drop. Gwen was clearly missing the point.
That night out at the tavern turned out to be the first of many, though Merlin never tried to skip his duties again. Still, it seemed whenever Arthur was unable to find Merlin, he'd inevitably show up with a story about how Gwaine said this or Gwaine did that, and so sorry, Arthur, I won't be late again. Right. Like Arthur had never heard that one before.
And if Merlin spending his after work hours with Gwaine wasn't bad enough, Gwaine seemed to be insinuating himself in Arthur's way constantly, and with no other purpose than to speak with Merlin. He'd turn a corner, giving Merlin a list of chores, and Gwaine would be waiting with a roguish grin and a story that he just had to tell Merlin right this instant.
It was annoying, but Arthur kept telling himself that he didn't care.
Not even a little.
They began receiving reports of slavers attacking some of Camelot's outlying villages. Arthur had little other choice than to gather the knights – including Gwaine – and ride out to meet the threat. Merlin came along as well, but that was to be expected. Merlin always followed, constant as a shadow.
He was riding beside Gwaine, at the moment. Gwaine was telling Merlin some story, no doubt of a crude and bawdy variety, waving his hands and talking a mile a minute. Merlin was drinking it all in, listening with rapt attention, and at the end of it, his laugh was more real and his smile wider than Arthur could remember it being for months.
Arthur wondered what he'd do, should Merlin decide that being Gwaine's shadow suited him more than being Arthur's.
But it was that moment they discovered the slavers were much more organized than they'd been led to believe. Men jumped down at them from the trees, dragging them all from their horses as more exploded from the bushes and undergrowth. Arthur growled, and drew his sword, and yelled, "Scatter!"
The knights all vanished into the trees in pairs, the slavers breaking rank to give chase. Arthur took one man down with a quick thrust to his stomach, and turned. Merlin was closer to Gwaine, and as much as it pained Arthur, he knew the knight wouldn't let any harm befall his servant. Arthur turned and dashed into the woods, several of the slavers taking off after him.
He circled through the woods for nearly half of an hour, dispatching slavers as he came across them. Eventually, he found himself back at the road where they had initially been attacked.
"Prince Arthur!" Leon said, as he approached. "We feared the worst when you didn't come back right away."
"It will take more than a few men like that to dispatch me," Arthur said, and smiled. He slapped Elyan on the back as he walked up. However, looking at the faces before him, Arthur realized that there was one missing.
It was Gwaine who put words to it, his eyes searching the trees behind Arthur, when he said, "Where's Merlin?"
"He went with you," Arthur said. It was like a rock dropped into the pit of his stomach.
"No, he took off after you," said Gwaine, slowly. There was a horror drawing across the knight's face that Arthur could feel mirrored in the panicked thumping of his own heart. Gwaine shook his head, and said, "Arthur, he always goes with you."
"He must have been taken by the slavers," said Elyan. "There was a group of them heading west, but they outnumbered me so I didn't give chase."
"We have to go find him," said Arthur. "Anyone who doesn't wish to come may return to the city."
"Right behind you," said Gwaine, and followed him into the woods. The other knights fell into steps behind them. No one turned back for Camelot.
They tracked the slavers through the forest, and were forced to make camp when the sun went down. Arthur didn't sleep much, his mind and thoughts stuck on Merlin and slavers and what could be happening to Merlin because of the slavers. He tossed, and he turned, and finally he gave up all pretenses and sat up.
Gwaine was watching him from across the fire. "I'm sorry," the knight said. "I thought he'd followed you, or I'd never have –"
"I know," said Arthur. And he did.
"He'll be alright," said Gwaine, and nodded slightly. Arthur figured that Gwaine was more trying to convince himself than Arthur.
"Of course he will be," said Arthur. "Merlin bounces, didn't you know? No doubt we'll arrive and they'll hand him over, tired of the way he's probably been running his mouth."
Gwaine smiled slightly. "You're right," he said.
And while they didn't talk the rest of the night, neither of them slept, either.
The next morning, not an hour after first light, they came upon the slavers' market. There were pens and pens filled with people, with Arthur's people, that it was a simple matter of picking a few locks and letting the rush of angry people sweep across the slavers like a plague while the knights fought.
When it was over, Arthur moved through the crowd, accepting thanks and wringing hands as he went, and his eyes swept over their faces, looking for one in particular.
It was Gwaine, though, who pushed through the crowd with reckless abandon, calling out, "Merlin! Merlin, my friend!" And it was Gwaine who was peering into the face of every dark haired, dirty faced, lanky man that he came into contact with before continuing his way through the slavers' captives.
It was Arthur, all the same, who found Merlin first. He was in the back of one of the pens, sitting and leaning against the wall. He looked rough around the edges, scuffed and bruised and exhausted, and there was a line of blood running from his hairline, but otherwise he appeared unharmed. Arthur sprung the door open, and as the other slaves pushed out he pushed in.
"Merlin," he said, squatting down in front of him.
"Hello," said Merlin. "Do I get a day off now?"
"You have to be dismembered for that, didn't you know?" Arthur said. Merlin huffed a laugh, but winced. Arthur frowned. "Are you alright?"
"Head hurts, but I've had worse," said Merlin. He sounded as tired as he looked. "You came after me."
"Of course I did," said Arthur. He cleared his throat, and thought about telling Merlin that he'd always come after him. He thought about telling Merlin how worried he'd made him. He thought about telling Merlin that he didn't have many friends, and so he had to look after the few he did. Instead, he grinned and said, "Gaius would've poisoned me if I'd left you to rot."
"True," said Merlin.
"Besides," said Arthur. "I couldn't in good conscience let some poor, unsuspecting soul buy you and be cursed with your awful service."
"Naturally," Merlin said.
"Merlin!" a voice called out, and Gwaine swooped in a moment later, manic grin plastered across his face.
"Arthur, here," Leon called from somewhere else in the market. "I need you for something."
Arthur was the prince. Princes had to be regal and upright and cool and collected. Princes had to display a calm face for the rest of the people to look to and to follow. Princes weren't allowed to spend time fussing over injured manservants. Princes could show some concern for the welfare of clumsy manservants, but only in passing. The needs of the many before the needs of the one. Always. Always.
But Gwaine could poke and prod at Merlin in front of everyone. Gwaine could pat him all over and make sure the bruises on his face were the worst of his injuries. Gwaine could throw Merlin over his shoulder and cart him off to the healers after discovering that Merlin had a hurt ankle as well. Gwaine could do all of the things that Arthur couldn't, not when there were others who needed him as well.
All the same, as Gwaine was carrying him off, slung over one shoulder like a sack of potatoes, Merlin looked up and met Arthur's eyes, and said, "Thank you."
Something settled in Arthur's chest, and he went to find Leon.